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When is a company asking for too much during the interview process?

318947873 12028f1b66 When is a company asking for too much during the interview process?

Here's the true story situation from one of the reader's of this blog:

Candidate gets a call from a small start-up company to interview for a part-time marketing contract position.  After a one-hour phone screen with the company's recruiter, the next steps are set up for an in-person meeting. The interview was a grueling 6-hour affair that did not even allow the candidate a bathroom break. Towards the end of the interview, the company mentioned they would like the candidate and three other contenders to spend the next week preparing a full one-hour live presentation outlining a marketing plan for the company.

While a writing test and sometimes even a mock presentation is common practice in evaluating a candidate for a position, at what point does a company cross "asking too much" line?

I have my answer which I'll share in tomorrow's post. In the meantime, I would love to hear what you think.

Do you think that a request for a marketing plan and a presentation is a realistic request for a contract or full-time permanent position? What is appropriate to ask and to not ask of a candidate during an interview process for a PR or marketing position in your opinion?

Updated: Here is my answer

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the following day.

Photo credit: Oberazzi [Flickr]
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17 Comments - Add yours!

Deb (April 2nd, 2009)

When I was an editor looking to make a change in subject matter, I interviewed with a publishing company that was fairly new to the industry. Instead of a writing test, they asked me to take home an article for editing and “do anything necessary” to prepare it for the next issue.

While the task seemed far from daunting at first, I had questions after I reviewed the “test.” I found that the publisher wanted me to reach out to the author for more information (involved an international phone call for which I would foot the bill) and do a full rewrite if necessary. The fact that I was expected to pay for an international toll call as part of an interview process was enough to turn me off.

In hindsight, I was smart. That publication doesn’t exist anymore.

jessicadamas (April 2nd, 2009)

Of course it’s asking too much. It sounds like the company is trying to take advantage of talented, yet desperate job seekers.

Amanda (April 2nd, 2009)

Of course, this was taking advantage of the people who were interviewed for the position.

I would be more understanding if this position was for a director of a department or CEO of the company, but for a part-time contract position, absolutely not.

Lisa Scales (April 2nd, 2009)

reading between the lines this looks to me like a severe case of mmm we dont know how to write a marketing strategy or dont have any ideas so lets get 4 candidates to show us what we should be doing!

Ridiculous company who obviously employ ridiculous talentless people!

robert schettino (April 2nd, 2009)

Increasingly common and IMO shows a lack of sophistication on the part of the hiring manager. A spec plan absent a deep dive and immersion into a company is often not worth much, so how informed can the hiring decision be? Seems a better approach is to ask a candidate to walk through a prior experience that parallels the (hiring company’s) business problem and provides the candidate an opportunity to draw those parallels, show how they think and how they executed…

Hadiyah (April 2nd, 2009)

This is a tricky situation. I would say that a sample of past marketing plans that one composed should be provided.

Whenever an employer asks the prospective candidate to write a marketing plan, re-write copy or develop any collateral on behalf of the company (where the candidate is not yet hired) is an unprofessional tactic. Many times, I see that companies are just looking to get something quick from desperate job seekers. Furthermore, this is a completely unacceptable requirement of part-time/contract workers. They would probably spend more time writing that plan than working with the company, if hired.

Carmen A. Harris (April 2nd, 2009)

Too much to ask for a part-time position. It’s time consuming and by asking the candidates to go that far (after 6-hours of interviews!) it’s almost like they are shopping for ideas and don’t have the money to hire anyone! I think job searchers need to keep in mind that as much they are being interviewed for a post – you are also INTERVIEWING THE COMPANY. Who would want to work for a company that has no respect for your time or talents? They want you to sit in their office all day and then make you present for a PART TIME CONTRACT GIG. Sounds like someone who wants something for nothing.

Suzy (April 2nd, 2009)

I’m in agreement with the others, a similar pattern started during the last downturn (when I happened to personally experience such requests) and it did, in fact, turn out that companies were using candidates in lieu of agencies and new hires for strategic ‘brainstorming’.
While I think that a draft plan with minimal back-up or access to prior planning, is a reasonable request I would steer clear of strategy and implementation tactics. As a recruiter I think I would have a serious conversation with the hiring manager to determine what exactly the motives are.
Another approach would be to promise the contractor’s hourly wage for hours invested as a ‘signing bonus’ — maybe, but that still seems frought will misgivings.

Wjasong (April 2nd, 2009)

A full plan and presentation would make sense if the position was for a VP or CMO position. However, this scenario sounds excessive for a part-time contract. I would agree that it is possible the company in questions may be looking for free ideas.

That being said, I was not in the room. Maybe all of the candidates are neck and neck. After spending 6 hours with the company, it could be possible to glean the employers motives and make a decision.

There is also an opportunity here. With the employer asking “too much” – my bet is that one or more of the candidates would consider dropping out of the race. Therefore, I win just by submitting a brief plan.

Carissa (April 2nd, 2009)

I agree that this is crossing the line, particularly considering it is for a part-time position. The closest experience to this that I have had was when I was asked to present for approximately 20-30 minutes a 30-60-90 day plan as incoming Global Marketing Communications Manager. At the time, it didn’t phase me because I had some very real ideas I wanted to share and was anxious to do so in this venue, however, others I’ve shared that story with have been surprised by it. I still think it’s acceptable in certain situations, but the example you posted here does seem to suggest the company is taking advantage of the situation. They would better evaluate the capabilities of the candidates by asking them to share a snapshot of a previous plan and how it may relate to planning for their business, or to ask the candidates to share a few thoughts or perspectives on how they might first approach marketing planning should they get the job. Regardless of the state of the economy, a candidate still has the right to expect her future employer to be reasonable and respectful of her time.

Joy (April 2nd, 2009)

I agree with everyone who’s said the company is fishing for free marketing ideas. This is why you have references. A good hiring manager should be able to question your references as to your strengths and your readiness for the responsibilities of the new role. Writing tests and portfolios are also common. I’ve also written press releases (from a few paragraphs of basic input) so that hiring managers could see my take on the subject.

Mark L. Olson (April 2nd, 2009)

Unprofessional…definitely. Abusive…probably. Six hours with no bathroom break tells you exactly what it would be like to work there. Any candidate should know something about the hiring company before showing up for any interview. The higher the position, the more you’re expected to know. At staff and Director levels, writing tests or one-page “idea sheets” are appropriate. At V-level and C-level positions, you’re expected to demonstrate what you know and what you would do, based on available information. I wrote about having a 100-Day Plan in this post: http://marklolson.wordpress.com/2009/03/20/a-cure-for-interviewer-amnesia/. The company referenced in this account will be lucky if they aren’t blogged about and Twittered to the point they have a bad rep that makes it so they can’t recruit.

Carrespondent (April 2nd, 2009)

Such companies/interviewers are cheating, thieving scum. It’s really that simple.

I once walked out of a reporting/editing job interview in which I was asked to an absurd and time-consuming writing test. I gave my opinion of the test, thanked the interviewer for her time and walked out. Two minutes later, she chased me down the hallway, stuffed her card in my hand and told me she was interested in hiring me.

WTF? No, I didn’t take the job.

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Charles (June 12th, 2009)

Since I am not in marketing I cannot speak to that request.

However, I am a software trainer and almost always have been asked to do a mock training. Usually, the recruiters will ask me to prepare something that I would like (I have a preset training that I do just for these mock sessions) or they will ask me to do something simple that I and they know will demonstrate my training skills and software knowledge.

If it cannot be done in 10-15 minutes or if 20+ people show up for the training, they have crossed the line.

Fortunately, these situations have only happened a couple of times. The time I was requested to do a more complex training session which would have taken at least an hour I told them, while I know how to do such and such, I thought it would be too involved for a short presentation which is meant to demonstrate my software knowledge and my training skills. They wouldn’t back down; so, I made the difficult decision to not even go to the interview. I told them my reasons and they felt that I was making the right decision as they could see that I would be a “difficult” employee. While part of me thinks I missed out on something, another part of me thinks – whew, I am glad that I dodged that bullet.

The other time was when I went to do a mock training session and there were about 30 people waiting for the class. I went ahead and did the training as agreed upon. However, it was very clear to me that they were using this as a real training session for employees; the introduction from the recruiter did NOT state that I was a job seeker, only that I was there to teach them such and such. Also, the employees asked several questions as if they didn’t know that this was supposed to be a “mock” training to assess my training skills. They were genuinely trying to learn the software lesson. What was supposed to be a 20 to 30 minute training session ended up lasting close to an hour. I felt cheated.

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